Karen Rivers

life lines.

Karen Rivers

The kids have started reading palms because of a book we read at bed time.  The book shows a picture of a hand:  life line, heart line, head line, happiness line and the line that indicates if you are likely to be eaten by hyenas.  The kids have a hard time finding any of their lines, except the hyena one.  

Apparently, their days are numbered.  

We lie awake at night and listen for cackling laughter.

I show them how to listen to their pulses, fingers pressed into their wrists near the "stringy bone".  Their hearts race on, ahead of mine, which lollops along behind them, slowly slowly.

On Saturday, something happened -- something -- and it lolloped lolloped lolloped into the long pause that precedes a faint.   The ambulances came, and the fire truck.   At one point, there were six men over six feet tall, bent over in my tiny, low-ceiinged bedroom, asking me questions.   Sweat poured out of me.  The kids huddled on my pillows and stared.  It was quite exciting, for them, I think.    

Or maybe that's what I wanted to think.  "Exciting".  Not "scary".  Not "the scariest thing they'd ever seen".  

I was upset that they might be upset, my upsetedness then upsetting them even more.

And I was embarrassed.  

Fainting sounds so Victorian and literary, but really it's ugly-sweaty and ominous, like the scene before the one where the girl in the bikini is eaten by the shark.

The kids were scared, of course.  I scared them.

But I'm fine.

"Sometimes, people faint," the doctor said.  "You have very low blood pressure.  Eat more salt."


There is a little girl in my son's grade two class who is aghast about everything he eats.  

"CHEESE STRINGS?" she exclaims.  "YOU CAN'T EAT THOSE!  Those are ... SALTY!"  

Her angst about his cheese strings is genuine.  I think she thinks she is saving him from ... well, who knows what?  I imagine that in her household, salt is demonized (probably accidentally).  Maybe her parents have reason to avoid it.  Or maybe they -- like most of us -- just feel so much pressure to eat "right":  fresh fruit, fresh vegetables -- eat a rainbow! -- organic everything, no packaged foods, make it perfect so their lives will be perfect, so people will think WE are perfect, so we don't make any mistakes, so everything is OK, so the kids grow up with every cell in balance, and everything we could do, done.

As it happens, my son and I both have perilously low blood pressure and salt is one of the things that keeps us from keeling over regularly.  

I think about the girl and her fear of salt.  I think about what we do to them, these tiny versions of ourselves, who absorb our fears and mirror them, magnified in ways that only kids can magnify things.  "Salt is bad for you," we say, and in their minds, the salt becomes an impossible craggy monster, arms akimbo, reaching for them in the night.

I feel a bit sorry for the girl, afraid of salt.  And my son, afraid of most other things.  I feel sorry for her, but at the same time, I'm so annoyed.

"Tell her to eat her own lunch," I sigh.  "Tell her to look away if it bothers her so much."

He stops eating cheese strings.  They come home in his lunch bag, flattened and sad.

My son is going fishing today for the first time.  He's worried.  (I'm allergic to fish.)  He's scared he's going to have to EAT fish.  And then what?

Well, I say.  YOU can actually eat fish.  Fish is good for you.  You SHOULD eat fish.  Omega-3 fatty acids!  They'll make you smart.

I don't really do that, he says.  Eat fish.  

I think about how we give our kids so much:  toys and love and food and shelter and all our fears, wrapped up like beautiful gifts in fancy foil paper, the ribbon piled up on top like a wild rainbow of love.   

My son is scared of fish.

My son is scared of my death, which he sees as imminent.  So much danger!   Fish everywhere, not to mention fainting.

The ambulances didn't help, of course.  

We try so hard.  We teach them how to be kind, how to be brave, how to do math, how to spell, how to climb mountains.

We teach them how to be afraid.

Don't worry, I want to say, everything is going to be fine.

But then, if it isn't, am I a liar?  


I'm very prone to believing things that ought to not be believable:  Palm reading.  The Ouija board.  Superstions.  The luck inherent in certain numbers.   Karma.   

When I was a young adult, I had my palm read.   My life line is criss-crossed heavily on one end, then has two smooth lines extending across the flesh of my hand, ending again in criss-crossing.  The palm-reader said this meant I would struggle with my health for a number of years, then have smooth sailing for a good long time, before I again began to struggle and die.  The "smooth sailing" part stuck with me.  Every time something happens now, I think, Oh, I guess that is the end of the smooth sailing.

They can't all be accurate, says my logical brain.  But still...  

The Ouija board said I would have 13 children and die at 63 after marrying someone whose initials were BS.   It turned out that my marriage was kind of BS, so maybe there is something to be said for Ouija boards, after all.  

I only had two kids.

And the sailing really never has been particularly smooth.